History of Highfield Park
The Early Years
The manor of Heckfield, the name by which Highfield was previously known, dates back as far as the Domesday Survey when it formed part of the possessions of Hugh de Port.
John de Port, the grandson of the Domesday holder, granted it before 1166 to Adam de St. Manefeo, and from this time the manor was held by the Ports and their successors the St. Johns, the manor occurring in lists of the St. John knights' fees as late as 1349. Adam de St. Manefeo was succeeded by his brother and heir Robert de St. Manefeo. In 1328 a licence was granted to Robert de Manefeo for a deer park at Heckfield. Taylor’s map of 1759 shows an avenue of trees north of the house, then dividing into three further avenues to Risley Common, Risley Mill, and to a lodge (later noted as a lime avenue); another avenue parallel to the first goes north to the road from Risley. A fishpond is shown on the later 18th century maps.
Around 1333 Sir Thomas de St. Leger and Elizabeth his wife claimed the manor and let it as a farm to William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, but the St. Manefeos subsequently recovered it, John de St. Manefeo, son and heir of Thomas de St. Manefeo, claiming all right in it in 1381.
In 1395 the manor was settled on by Edward Bokeland and Amice his wife. Edward Bokeland was still holding Heckfield in 1404, but in 1405 possession of the manor was granted to Sir Philip la Vache after Edward and Amice died leaving no children. Sir Philip la Vache, who in 1403 was considered of ‘old age and debility' died about five years later.
By 1451 the manor was in the possession of Elizabeth wife of Thomas Norton, who in that year dealt with it fine in conjunction with her husband.
The Creswell Family
The Creswells were an ancient family who became Lords in 1465. William Creswell was the first lord of the manor of Heckfield, he died at Heckfield in 1475, and was succeeded by John Creswell, who died in 1518, leaving to the heir, his son Thomas. On the death of Thomas in 1533 the manor passed to Richard Creswell, who died seven years later. Thomas Creswell son and heir of Richard settled at Heckfield with his wife Jane in 1596, and later died in 1607, leaving a son and heir Thomas. Thomas had been Lord of the Manor for 68 years and so was accorded one of the greatest funerals in the villages history. The Creswell family held the manor for almost 2 centuries.
The Sturt Family
The manor next passed by sale to the Sturt family, the purchaser probably being Anthony Sturt. Sir Anthony Sturt son of Anthony, sheriff of Hampshire in 1694, gave the manor to his son, Humphrey, when he married Diana daughter of Sir Nathaniel Napier in 1717. On the death of Humphrey Sturt in 1740 the manor passed to his son Humphrey Sturt of Horton who was the owner in 1745. He had parted with it, however, before 1778, in which year Sir Thomas Gatehouse in his survey of Hampshire describes Heckfield Park as 'late the estate of Humphrey Sturt, Esq., now in occupation of William Augustus Pitt. This William Augustus Pitt was the younger brother of George Pitt, first Lord Rivers, the owner of Stratfield Saye Estate. He died without issue in 1809 and his property then passed to his nephew George Pitt, second Lord Rivers, who had succeeded his father, George Pitt, first Lord Rivers, in 1803.
The old manorial days of Heckfield were to change in Georgian times. The Bowling Green, stocks and whipping post adjoined the church – the farmers, craftsmen and peasants were to have new rulers, a squire and a parson. The Sturts sold all their property in Heckfield, including the manor to George Pitt Esq of Stratfield Saye and so Heckfield Park was destined to pass to the Estate, it would no longer be the old manor house but a country house.
The Pitt Family and the Stratfield Saye Estate
In 1757 the house, then known as Heckfield House, and its surrounding estate was incorporated into the neighbouring estate of Stratfield Saye, owned by the Pitt family. The house was occupied around that time by William Augustus Pitt. Colonel William Augustus Pitt was governor of Portsmouth and A.D.C. to George III, who visited the house with Queen Charlotte. During his occupancy he carried out alterations to the house, pleasure grounds, and probably had the walled gardens built. We know that Robert Adams, architect, redesigned the house we see today for the Pitt family in 1760. There is a painting of Adams hanging outside the Saye in Highfield Park today. William Pitt died on 29th December 1809 at Highfield Park. Around ten years later is the first recorded date of the change of name from Heckfield to Highfield. A farm had been built in the park west of the house by 1872 when the 1st edition O.S. map was printed.
From Heckfield to Highfield
John Lefevre, a wealthy London property owner, acquired the farmhouse known as `Bakers' as a country residence for his daughter Helena in 1784. The following year he purchased `The Grove', a Jacobean house standing in parkland situated approximately halfway between the present Reading Lodge and Church Lodge. He started building a new house to the south-east of Bakers which was completed by 1790 and thereafter Bakers formed the servants' quarters; The Grove was demolished. In 1789, Helena married Charles Shaw who added her name to his and took the arms and motto of Lefevre. On John Lefevre’s death in 1790 the couple inherited his estate and continued to add to it, until it reached its maximum extent of over 4000 acres. The pleasure grounds and park were laid out and the house was extended by the addition of two wings circa 1818. As part of these improvements, Charles Shaw-Lefevre negotiated with the owners of nearby Heckfield Manor for them to change the name of their property in order to avoid any possible confusion with his own estate and so Highfield Park was created.
Highfield Park remained part of the Stratfield Saye estate and was know as the Dower House for the estate. It had many residents during this time including Sir Lowry Cole. The Hon. General Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, an army officer during the Peninsular war, and a personal friend of the Duke of Wellington. He lived at the house in with his wife Lady Frances Cole, and on the 1841 census it shows they lived there with their children Arthur, Florence, Louisa, Frances and Henrietta, in total they had 7 children but William (the second son) must not have been home on the day of the census. You will find a memorial to Cole in St Michaels Church.
By the next census in 1851 Highfield Park was home to James Munro MacNabb (the 3rd James) who had served in India. He was Private Secretary to the Marquess of Hastings, Governor General of India. He married Jane Mary Campbell (a cousin of Lady Hastings). They lived at Highfield Park with their daughters Flora (then aged 14) and Sophia (age 10). In service with the family was a Governess for the children, cook, a nurse, 2 housemaids, a scullery maid, butler and a footman. In residence at the Stables was a gardener, stable boy and 2 ladies working in the laundry.
In the 1871 census the house is listed as Highfield House and is home to Mary Anne Marson. Mary is listed as head of the household and is a widow in 1871. She lived at Highfield with her daughter Emily (aged 40) and her niece Helen Sebastian (age 17). The Marsons stayed at Highfield Park for some time. By the 1891 census Mary has passed away and her son, Frederick, is now listed as head of the household. His daughter, named Mary after his mother is also living with him at Highfield at this time. At the time Highfield Park was described as ‘situated to the west of St. Michael's Church, the dower house of the Stratfield Saye estate, at present occupied by Mr. Frederick Boyd Marson’.
By 1911 Highfield Park had become home to Mary Frances Throne, she was married to Thomas Fleetwood Joseph Nicol Thorne (Captain in the Grenadier Guards) who passed away 27th September 1915 at Loos France. Mary remained at the house with her daughters Sarah, Frances and Anne, her niece Phyliss also lived with them at Highfield Park. A team of 8 staff lived in the house with them looking after their needs. Also on the Estate was the Stables and Laundry. The Laundry was home to the Gregg family, George and Emma and their 4 sons Edward (age 20), Emmet (13), Arthur (20) and Wilfred (4). Both George and Edward worked on the estate looking after the gardens while Emmet and Arthur attended school. Samuel and Mary Eaton lived at the Stables; Samuel was the chauffeur for the ‘big house’. The couple had 3 young children Evelyn (15), Harold (8) and Raymond (2).
After the Thorne Family we know that the house was rented again by Mr & Mrs Ernest Barry who took the house as a country retreat from 1924 until 1931.
In 1932 Ms Lillian S Cole took the house for a 7-year period as her main residence. The next resident at Highfield Park was a famous one, Neville Chamberlain, who moved in early in 1940. During his residency he was visited by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. War Cabinet member and former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain died of cancer in November 1940 whilst living in the house. He passed away on the 9th Nov 1940, aged 71 and is buried at Westminster Abbey. There is a memorial to Chamberlain close to the North door in St Michaels church.
The building left the Wellington Estate and was sold to become a business rather than a family home. Highfield House as it was known on the sales documents was purchased by Style Conferences in 1980. Highfield Park Conferences Ltd opened its doors as a conference centre on the 4th July 1983. Throughout its time as a conference venue, it has played host as a dedicated training venue to such companies a National Air Traffic Services and Hewlett Packard, both of whom remain clients today. Between 1980 and 2016 the venue was managed by several different management companies until it was purchased in April 2016 and became the independently owned country house hotel you visit today. The current owners are dedicated to returning the house to its former glory and are investing in the building and the estate to safeguard its future for all to enjoy.